#EurekaMoment 17: Emotions are universal, values are not

December 1, 2019 Harold Tor-Daenens

#EurekaMoment 17: Emotions are universal, values are not

Good communicators realise that hard facts and figures make a strong case for your argument. There is no doubt that the earth is round, the climate is changing, 1 + 1 is 2. Yet facts alone will not compel anyone to act on his own, answer your call to action, or join any collective efforts to support a cause. It takes emotions to do that.


Emotions help humans make decisions

Human beings are hardwired to take action because of their emotions. It is our primal instinct to act based on our emotions – some people more than others – because it helps us react to dangerous situations as thought processes may take far too long for us to do so.

Take for example a caveman. He knows for a fact that there are wolves roaming outside his compound. He hears their howling at night. It is a fact. Yet it is the love for his family and the fear for their safety that compel the caveman to build fences around his compound. Emotions may or may not be grounded on actual facts, but they are surely more powerful in getting human beings to act.

This is the reason why you should also buffer your facts with stories that your target audience can comprehend, relate to, and empathise with. Make sure that they can easily imagine themselves in the shoes of your protagonist. This is a catalyst for action.

When communicating emotions, watch out for the pitfall of values

All human beings feel the same emotions: joy, fear, grief, anger, exhilaration. The degree to which an individual allows these emotions to show depends on his personality and surroundings. Leaving aside the minority of emotionally constipated persons, most people are moved by the same emotions.

Yet based on experience, a communicator realises that not every story gets the same reaction from every community around the world. Why is that so?

Values are shaped by one’s surrounding social groups. Family values are shaped by family traditions and viewpoints. A country’s values are likewise shaped over hundreds of years, through common experiences, habits, ways of life. Values are unwritten laws, which is often stricter than law, because any infringement of a community’s values leads to ostracisation and eviction.

Values can either constrict, negate or exalt emotions

Because values differ widely among human communities – very much in contradiction to the view of the United Nations, content that evoke emotions get different results even though people experience the same emotions.

Take for example an ad showing cute puppies, asking people to adopt them.

A cute puppy shown in a country like Japan, will get millions of likes and immediately all the puppies will get adopted. This is because viewers in Japan, experience emotions of exhilaration and excitement, due to the puppies’ cuteness.

Show the same ad in a country like Saudi Arabia. Viewers are bound to experience the same emotions, due to the images. Yet no one will come forward to adopt the puppies. The country’s values dictate that dogs are dirty animals, so no matter how cute one thinks the puppies are, there is an unwritten rule that you cannot act according to your emotions.

In short, always be aware of the values of your target audience. Your call to action will only be answered to, when you evoke the right emotions through empathy, and that those actions or beliefs are not contrary to the values of the community where your target audience is located.

Eureka Moments are not so much moments of sudden realisation or enlightenment like Archimedes. They are moments while I am in my commute when I get to reflect on things that someone mentioned to me, things that I am confronted with, things that I or others have sought a solution for. They are more ‘oh I get it’ rather than ‘I have discovered it’. 


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